Acoustic Guitar Recording Techniques

Acoustic Guitar Recording TechniquesAcoustic Guitar Recording Techniques for the Home Music Studio.

In this post you will learn 3 acoustic guitar recording techniques essential for capturing the most realistic sound from your instrument.

As we begin let me remind you that recording in the home music studio is a very relative objective. In other words, we each have different tastes and musical style preferences.

My encouragement here would be to find an industry standard recording that fits your musical tastes or preferences. Also find a mix that resonates with your personal recording goals. Once you have discovered these two things then use them as your reference point.

Though you may not have access to the same level of equipment found in a multi million dollar studio, you can still achieve a professional sounding result.

So lets look at the first of our three acoustic guitar recording techniques.

 

START WITH THE SOURCE

Your guitar must sound good acoustically or it will be far more difficult to attain a quality recording. The financial value of your instrument is not the deciding factor here. For the demonstration tracks later in this post I am using an inexpensive Samick Greg Bennett Design, model D-5CE.

You do not need a $10,000 Taylor to achieve a professional sounding acoustic guitar recording.

That said, it is important to fine tune your instrument before attempting to record it. Make sure you have a new set of strings. Give attention to the string height or action. If it is not set properly there will be unwanted buzzes and rattles when you play. Too high of an action can also cause intonation problems and tonal issues the higher up the neck you play.

Tune your guitar before you attempt to record it as well. This may need to be double checked before each take depending on how well your instrument stays in tune. If you’re using a capo, make sure to place it correctly on the guitar. Often missed placed capos cause the tuning to go sharp.

 

KNOW THE PURPOSE OF YOUR ACOUSTIC GUITAR TRACK

One of the most critical acoustic guitar recording techniques is knowing what you intend to include in your final mix. What is the purpose of the track going to be within the finished song? Is the acoustic guitar a filler track or the primary instrument? Does the track need to be very dominate or just sit in the background of the mix?

Knowing the answers to each of these questions will help you determine the best way to record. For example, if the acoustic guitar is the primary instrument then you may want to record and mix it in full stereo. If done correctly, a stereo acoustic track will typically be fuller than a mono one.

If the acoustic guitar is more of a background filler, it might be appropriate to record it in mono. Or pan the stereo track off to one side of the mix. There are many different ways to capture and process your acoustic guitar track. Knowing where you want the acoustic track to land in the final mix will help determine how you need to record it.

 

EXPERIMENT WITH MIC PLACEMENT AND PICKUP SETTINGS

Learning effective acoustic guitar recording techniques often requires experimentation. Each instrument has its own unique sound. That sound is also shaped by the playing style of the recording artist. Each mic and pickup used to record also produce a distinct sound. I’ve included some images and audio files below demonstrating some of the acoustic guitar recording techniques that I often use myself.

I am recording my 10-year-old Samick Greg Bennett Design, model D-5CE. The pick-up and pre-amp is stock. The two microphones I am recording with are an ADK A-51 and a Shure Sm137 Condenser Instrument Microphone. Please note that these same acoustic guitar recording techniques can be applied with any microphone and pickup combination.

 

Mono track with pickup and A-51 blended.

This type of track may work well if panned to the outside of the mix for a fill guitar. The A-51 is placed where the neck meets the body about 3 inches away from the guitar.

Mono Track (Strumming) Mono track with pickup and AKG A-51 Blended (Strumming)

Mono Track (Finger Picking Rhythm) Mono track with pickup and AKG A-51 blended (Finger Picking Rhythm)

 

Mono/Stereo track with SM137 and A-51 blended, no pickup.

This type of track may also work well if panned to the outside of the mix for a fill. The A-51 is the same as above but the pickup is no longer in the mix. Note the position of the SM137 from the pictures. The two mics blended together without the guitar pickup, in my opinion, give a much more natural sound.

Mono Track (Strumming) Mono track with SM137 and AKG A-51 blended (Strumming)

Mono Track (Finger Picking Rhythm) Mono track with SM137 and AKG A-51 blended (Finger Picking Rhythm)

Stereo Track (Strumming) Stereo track with SM137 and AKG A-51 blended (Strumming)

Stereo Track (Finger Picking Rhythm) Stereo track with SM137 and ADK A- 1 (Finger Picking Rhythm)

 

Hopefully these acoustic guitar recording techniques have been helpful to you. I’d love to hear any thoughts, questions, or comments you may have. Please add them to the section below.

 

 

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Discussion

  1. Dan says

    Cool, that helps me a lot. Now I know what to do when I hear similar resonance in other recordings. (i.e. Don’t blame the mic!)

    • says

      You bet Dan!,

      My personal rule of thumb is, “know where the end result of the track is going to be, and try to record it accordingly with mic placement, room, sound etc.” This will typically limit having to use a lot of EQ to fix issues.

      keep in touch!

  2. Dan says

    Thanks for Mxl 990s mic example. Sounds pretty good too.

    Out of curiosity, my rookie ears are telling me there is resonance happening around 300hz, 400hz, and 850hz. (I loaded your recording up in my DAW and practiced EQ’ing it.)

    Would you cut those frequencies if you were mixing it?

    Is the guitar body causing the resonance, or the mic, or the mic position?

    Thanks for you help again, Dave. :)

    • says

      Nice Dan! ;), I left this flat to give you a good general idea of what the mic can do with a lower end guitar at a general distance. I will say that there is some clarity that is certainly lost when I dithered it down to 196k mp3 file from the 24bit 48000 original.

      What would I EQ? Well that all depends on where I would use the track. I would EQ it different if it were a solo accompaniment with one voice as compared to a fill acoustic in a full mix.

      I did load the mp3 in my DAW and tweaked the ranges you’ve listed. I do hear what your referring to I believe. What that is is the body of the guitar. Each guitar will be different and so will each situation. That said, there are drastic changes in the sound by moving the mic, almost limitless changes. I went for a closer mic witch does give a little proximity effect of the body and I believe that’s what your hearing. Cutting about 2-2.5db with a parametric around 400Hz does seem to pull that out a bit. This would tapper a bit out of the 300Hz and even close to the 800hz as well.

      Backing the mic up would have a similar effect as well. The closer to the guitar the more that resonance of the body would come out. Also the closer to the sound hole the more lows it will bring in as well. It’s really about finding your tastes and sweet spot. In your case micing it around 12-16″ out might work great. The mic itself can do just about anything (for affordable quality).

      I would essentially EQ it to stay out of the way of whatever lead was there and give enough highs to still cut through. But there are a ton of factors in the end that would make a difference in my mind (Panning, what other instruments were there, style of music).

      Any other thoughts?

  3. Dan says

    Thanks for the article Dave. I’m just getting started, and have only recorded acoustic guitar using its internal pickup (via ProFire 610 interface). The result has been too harsh and too “in your face” despite using mix tricks to tame pick noise.

    Looks like the ADK mic would be a good purchase to improve things.

    • says

      Your welcome Dan. I’ve gotten excellent results as well with the
      Mxl 990S Condenser Microphone
      The ADK is a great mic but certainly a little more costly. I’d be happy to upload another test file for you using the MXL if you want? Mic placement has a huge amount to do with your end result for sure. Just let me know if I can answer any more questions for you.

      Keep in touch

      • Dan says

        If your willing to demo the Mxl too, that would be great! I’m trying to switch careers (from computer programming to mix engineer) and money is tight while I make the transition. Getting the most bang for the buck is my mode of operation at the moment. :)

        • says

          Ok, here ya go Dan. This is my fairly inexpensive Samick D-5CE. This is a stereo track but no panning at all. I recorded it with just the mic and no pickup. I’m using the Mxl 990S Condenser Microphone(affiliate link). I’ve got the 150Hz high pass filter enabled when I tracked it. I then applied another 150HPF in post. I did do a little noise reduction to the track with Audacity. Other than that its simply normalized at -0.1db and has no compression or any other effects.

          The mic was aimed straight on where the neck meets the body about 6″ away and exactly straight across from that position with no angle.

          Don’t hammer me to much about my mess ups in trying to play a bit off the cuff ;) Let me know if you’ve got any more questions as I’d be happy to help.
          http://homemusicstudio1.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/AcousticFlatMXL990s+150HzLowCut.mp3

    • says

      I’m glad you found the info helpful Sean. Is there anything specific about home recording I can cover that would help you out? Let me know and have a great day!

      Dave

What are your thoughts?